Devin White played with a vengeance on Sunday night.
The second-year Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker not only came out firing after missing two games while on the reserve/COVID-19 list, but also with a need to improve in coverage compared to his last two contests against the New Orleans Saints.
In Tampa Bay's two regular season losses to the Saints, White had allowed 15 receptions on 17 targets in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. Across his 15 regular season games, he allowed a completion percentage of 87.8%, giving up 761 yards and four touchdowns.
You'd have never known that by watching White play on Sunday night. He made his typical impact with a team-leading 11 tackles and a fumble recovery, and also recorded his first interception of the year in the middle of the fourth quarter.
“It was great. Just to see Devin make those plays, that’s what he’s capable of making," head coach Bruce Arians described White's return performance. "Everybody was criticizing how he can’t cover anybody, I think he just proved that he can.”
That turnover set the Bucs up in the red zone and allowed Tampa Bay to extend its lead to 10 points, effectively putting the game away.
And beyond the victory-establishing interception, White allowed three receptions on five targets for just 24 yards against the Saints, per PFF. Understanding his assignment in man coverage would often be star running back Alvin Kamara, White effectively shut him down, giving up one catch on three targets for four yards. The interception came off of quarterback Drew Brees targeting Kamara shooting up the seam.
"On my interception, we was in a certain defense and I knew [Brees] was going to try to get the ball to Alvin Kamara," White shared post-game. "My coach already told me that it was going to be a heavy dose of Alvin Kamara because he's their, really, only playmaker right now. So, I just knew wherever he was, that's where I was going to be, I was going to make a play."
White's interception, and fumble recovery, equated to two of New Orleans' four turnovers on the night, compared to Tampa Bay's zero. The turnover differential was a key aspect of the Buccaneers' preparation for the game after posting six turnovers across the two regular season contests against the Saints, while New Orleans had just two in those matchups.
Tampa Bay was able to turn three of those turnovers into 21 points, which led to its 30-20 victory and advancement to the NFC Championship.
“The defense was incredible all game. The turnovers were huge," Bucs quarterback Tom Brady added after the win. "Last time we played them, we lost the turnover [margin], minus three. Today was plus-four, you’re not going to lose many games when you’re plus four. Just a great effort, they came up huge."
Brady is correct, Tampa Bay's defense as a whole had a stellar night against the Saints and arguably played its best game of the year. But there's no denying that White's performance acted as a glue for the entire unit, and the Bucs look forward to similar showings as it aims for a Super Bowl appearance in a few short weeks.
“Devin is a baller. He’s just known for making plays," said cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting. "He was the energy bug out there and that kind of energy is contagious. It runs through our entire defense and it runs through our entire team. That’s what he does – he makes big plays, splash plays whenever you need them. He came through for us and did everything.”